NBA playoffs: The Dallas Mavericks are setting their phasers to 'kill'

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dirk nowitzki.jpgNo team in the West has better personnel to better match the Lakers than the Mavs. If you want perimeter defenders with length, Dallas has Shawn Marion, Rodrigue Beaubois, and DeShawn Stevenson. If you want bigs to match up with Pau Gasol and possibly Andrew Bynum, Dallas has Brendan Haywood and Erick Dampier. If you want a scorer that can go toe-to-toe with Kobe, Dallas has Dirk Nowitzki. The Mavs have a far deeper bench, just as many scoring options, a point guard that isn’t a waste of space, and should they meet the Lakers in the Conference Finals, surely some momentum on their side as well.

Getting to that point is going to be tricky, and making the transition from tough match-up on paper to a real threat even trickier. If any team in the West can do it though, it’s the Mavs.

If you’ve seen the impact of Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd this season,
you know the offense will be there. The difference-maker — and the
thing that could take the Mavs all the way to the NBA championship —
will be their ability to defend. 

A huge part of that is Shawn Marion’s defense against Kobe Bryant, which is absolutely critical for the Mavs to make it to the NBA Finals. Marion will need to continue sharpening his defensive abilities in the earlier rounds against some brutal competition, but the endgame is easy: stop Kobe, and (probably) then after that, stop LeBron. It’s not a one-man job and Marion would and should have help, but the Mavs’ defense against those two stars begins with Shawn.

Perhaps just as crucial, though, will be the play of Brendan Haywood and Erick Dampier. Together, the two have the potential to be the most effective defensive center tandem in the league. Haywood is one of the best post defenders in the league, and Dampier is criminally underrated on that front. If those two can play the type of defense they’re capable of playing (which includes not only good on-ball post D, but supplying superior weak side help, and rebounding well), Dallas would have an easier waltz to the Finals than you’d think. It’s just about translating that potential into reality, or really, executing defensively more consistently than they have over the last two months.

The Mavs are on a bit of an upswing right now, and their point differential over their last five games is +13.6. Four of their last five opponents were held to under 100 points, and three of those five under 90 points. It really feels like Dallas could be on the verge of something great if the defensive execution could just stick around for a spell.   

Plus, despite the unfounded claims against Dirk’s ability to perform in the clutch, his “softness,” or inability to perform in the playoffs, Nowitzki is as good of a postseason player as we have in the league. Last year he posted a 28.4 PER and earned .284 win share per 48 minutes in 10 games against the Spurs and Nuggets. Those numbers are just a few ticks under LeBron James’ this season, and while Nowitzki may not be able to keep up with some of the league’s other superstars on the defensive end, he’s still an offensive juggernaut.

So many things are on Dallas’ side that it’s ridiculous. Coaching? Rick Carlisle is one of the best in the game, and his ability to adjust in-game and in-series is top-notch. ‘Veteran savvy?’ Dallas is one of the most experienced teams in the league. Clutch play? The Mavs have been dominant in close games this season, relying on the stability of their late-game execution to win the day. Home-court advantage throughout at least half of the playoffs? Check. Leadership? Double-check.

The Mavs are confident and ready to roll, and with the the added rest and preparation time the playoffs afford, no one should be too surprised if they’re hoisting up a trophy in a few months’ time.

Counter-report: Kyrie Irving has been ‘communicative and forthright’ with Celtics

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Kyrie Irving, according to a report, has ghosted the Celtics as free agency approaches.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Whoever leaked the initial information wanted to make Irving look bad. Whoever leaked this wanted to make Irving look good. Who’s telling the truth?

Who knows?

Maybe Irving’s and Boston staffers have differing definitions “communicative and forthright.” They could each be telling their own truths. But neither side is above spreading inaccurate rumors to sully someone else’s reputation.

Breakups get messy, and it appears this one is already there.

Beyond all the noise about how Irving is leaving, the most important detail: This is yet another report he’s leaving for the Nets.

Report: Hornets’ Michael Kidd-Gilchrist opting in for $13 million

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The Hornets’ last hope for super-maxing out Kemba Walker and avoiding the luxury tax without trading or stretching anyone has been extinguished.

With Michael Kidd-Gilchrist‘s $13 million salary locked in for next season, Charlotte faces hard choices.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

If the Hornets re-sign Walker to the super-max, sign their draft picks (Nos. 12, 36 and 52) and add no other free agents, they’d project to be about $9 million over the tax line.

Would Walker take that large of a discount? That $9 million below the super-max would be for just next season. Over a five-year contract with max raises, he’d be leaving about $54 million on the table. And that’s all to maintain a lottery team that’s not really upgrading.

Would Michael Jordan pay the tax? He never has, and I doubt this mediocre team sways him.

The most likely outcome if Walker re-signs: Charlotte trades an undesirable contract – Kidd-Gilchrist’s, Nicolas Batum‘s, Marvin Williams‘, Cody Zeller‘s) – or stretches Bismack Biyombo. Trading those rotation players would probably require a sweetener. Stretching Biyombo would create a cap hit through 2022.

So, the Hornets get even more depleted in the long-term, maybe also the short-term.

That’s the cost of overpaying so many players – including Kidd-Gilchrist, who plays hard and defends well but hasn’t developed enough of an offensive game.

Report: After working out Darius Garland, Knicks set on R.J. Barrett with No. 3 pick

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R.J. Barrett is the consensus No. 3 prospect in this draft. The Knicks have the No. 3 pick.

A potential snag  – New York working out Vanderbilt point guard Darius Garland today – apparently won’t keep Barrett from his desired Knicks.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The top of the draft looks clear:

1. Pelicans: Zion Williamson

2. Grizzlies: Ja Morant

3. Knicks: R.J. Barrett

New Orleans has the No. 4 pick but is looking into trading it. I rate Garland as the top available prospect, but the Pelicans already have Lonzo Ball and Jrue Holiday in the backcourt. They could still take Garland, but the fit would be tricky.

Will New Orleans pick Garland? Take someone else? Trade the pick?

The draft will get interesting at No. 4.

Trade who? Wizards reportedly will offer Bradley Beal three-year, $111 million contract extension

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Predicting what the Wizards will do this off-season — from the No. 9 pick in the draft on Thursday through what to do with Jabari Parker‘s $20 million team option — is difficult because they do not have a permanent general manager. The Wizards have made a run at Toronto’s Masai Ujiri (something sources told me is true despite owner Ted Leonsis’ denials), but for now in-house candidate Tommy Sheppard is running the show (and will for a while longer).

The biggest question: What will the Wizards do with Bradley Beal?

While every team in the league has called to try and feel out trade possibilities, the Wizards are leaning toward offering him a three-year, $111 million extension to his current contract, something reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

“He’s eligible for a three-year, $111 million extension. I’m told it’s the team’s intention to offer that up to him and try and move forward.”

The Wizards should offer it up.

It would be a surprise if Beal accepted it.

In part because he will want to see who is in charge and what direction this person takes the franchise before he commits to it, but also in part because it doesn’t hurt him financially. Beal can get a larger-year four-year extension in the summer of 2020, or become a free agent and sign a max five-year contract in 2021 (or, he could bolt them to another team that summer). Beal is just 25 years old and has not had the kind of injury issues that would make him think he needs to take the security now (he has played 82 games the last two seasons).

This little dance will go on in our nation’s capital, but it signifies nothing. Meanwhile, Beal will gear up for next season, another without John Wall where Beal will once again be the focal point of the office.